From Chalkboards to Keyboards

When Dr. Sean Vinaja teaches chemistry, he spends most of his time scribbling equations and formulas on the chalkboard in front of the class. Now, he spends that time in his home office, scribbling away on paper while recording his lectures.


“I never would have thought that I could teach these courses online because I use a chalkboard so much; but, as the saying goes, ‘necessity is the mother of invention,’ and I have found a way to use my cell phone camera and notebook paper to make the ‘chalkboard’ that I and my students need,” he said. “I had to figure out how to suspend my cell phone above a sheet of paper without the picture being upside down, without the picture being sideways, without my hand being in the way, and without taking a long time to switch between cameras.”

When transitioning to online learning, students weren’t the only ones learning a few new online tools—faculty were learning them first! Between WebEx, Canvas, and maybe more than a few e-mails between colleagues and department chairs, PCC’s faculty has steadily found creative ways to present their class material online.


While her husband could be heard explaining all things chemistry in the other room, occasionally pausing his prepping for coffee, Dr. Elizabeth Vinaja missed seeing the students from her English classes. “[Recording my first lecture] was weird! I sat at my empty dining room table with my dogs lying down by my feet. Two minutes into my lecture, my dogs were both snoring!” she said.

When recording her lectures, Dr. Elizabeth Vinaja found a way to feel more connected to her students. “Before I started recording, I had decided to print out my seating charts with my students’ pictures on them. I even showed my classes on my webcam that I was looking at their pictures while teaching the lesson. Seeing their pictures helped me feel more connected to them in that moment, rather than feeling so isolated myself,” Dr. Elizabeth Vinaja explained. “For the first day, I had all my classes respond to a discussion board post, just telling the class where they are watching from and how things are going. I also encouraged everyone to respond to their classmates’ posts throughout the week. It’s been good to see them reconnect with each other.”


For the Debate (SP 312) and Oral Communications (SP 410) classes, speech faculty Kailey Spilger transformed her usually active classroom to equally active conference calls. “My classes are especially unique because the big assignments have to be done in a synchronous format. We are all doing everything we can to make classes asynchronous so students can complete work on their own time, but I’m teaching students how to interact with each other in team problem-solving situations and how to think quickly in an academic debate format setting. Course Learning Outcomes have required me to schedule several conference calls this week, and I’m bracing myself for almost 100 conference calls in the next 6 weeks.”

Because she aimed to have the conference calls at a time available for her whole class, Spilger has appreciated her students making the best of their situation. “Because we have a lot of teamwork in my classes, we have utilized WebEx Teams which is a platform where I can put teams together in a ‘space’ by themselves. They have their own group chat, and we can coordinate necessary calls together,” she explained. “One thing I’m thankful for is that my students are so positive and have a ‘can-do’ attitude. It has been easier because of them to schedule so many calls.”


Education faculty Dr. Chris Bowman knew transitioning to online learning was going to be a stretching experience, but he looked forward to how he could better himself through it. “Working from home has been a new experience, and I find that I spend a lot more time on class work than I did when college was in session,” he said. “I’m on the computer early in the morning and most days until I go to bed. It’s probably because I am pushing to get as much of the ‘bones’ of the class done ahead of time.”

As he reworked course requirements, Dr. Bowman realized his teaching assistants (TAs) would have the most unique experience, but continues to work with them so they can meet course requirements. “They still must teach each week,” he explained. “Because of being quarantined, for some, their only student may be their mom, so it will be difficult for them as well. I sent every one of my students early last week a document I created called ‘Get Organized.’ It is a schedule where they plan their week.”

After transitioning to online learning, PCC’s faculty have been pressing on, recording new lectures and staying in contact with their students. Throughout it all, they’ve not had to go searching for any of the help or support they needed—it was being readily provided. “I really want to thank Dr. Shoemaker, Dr. Cochran, and Dr. Shane Smith (chair of Natural Sciences) for their support, work on our behalf, and encouragement,” said Dr. Sean Vinaja. “I feel like our PCC administration team is actively engaged in leading the charge. I have seen in their examples every characteristic of Christian leadership that I want to pass on to my students.”


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